I feel‹almost‹too much

Plate 4 for the April 1874 installment of the Cornhill Magazine serialization of Hardy's novel.

Although this is Paterson's first depiction of Boldwood in either plate or vignette, the reader has already been introduced to the gentleman-farmer and his social opposite, the Old Maltster, in previous instalments, the former with Bathsheba in March (Chapters 9 and 12), the latter with Gabriel in February (Chapter 8). Thus, the two illustrations complement one another in terms of the novel's chief plot strands so far, the large-scale illustration representing Bathsheba's fortunes in romantic relationships, the small-scale reminding us of Gabriel's adaptations to a new social environment and station. The Old Maltster, Liddy's Grandfather Smallbury, represents not merely the rural peasant chorus of the local drinking hole, but also the last of the stages of life, complementing the upper- middle-class, as well as Bathsheba's youth and Boldwood's middle-age.

Vignette 4 for the April 1874 installment of the Cornhill Magazine serialization of Hardy's novel.

The vignette realises the Old Maltster's "plateless" (p. 385) breakfast, situated in the letter-press on the opening page of the April instalment. At one level, the little picture vivifies the simple joys of simple folk who, unlike their betters pictured opposite, are afflicted by neither social conventions nor powerful, self-destructive intellects. The old man's "lack of teeth" is a metonymy for the feebleness of advanced age, and his diminutive, three-legged table the alienation of one who has outlived the rest of his generation. What he is Boldwood has surely faced the prospect of becoming, so that Boldwood's infatuation with Bathsheba is revealed as a last grasp at youth and romance, and a final denial of growing infirmity and, ultimately, of mortality. The Maltster is a Tithonus figure: "he seemed to approach the grave as a hyperbolic curve approaches a line -- sheering off as he got nearer, till it was doubtful if he would ever reach it at all" (p. 386). We are reminded in the dialogue of the Maltster's customers of the responsibility that employers such as Bathsheba and Boldwood have towards the peasantry. Should she -- or he -- fail in personal and business life, as Mark Clark observes, "All will be ruined and ourselves too" (p. 386). Gabriel seems so much at home in the society of the malthouse that his ever entering the society of the great house, exemplified by the fashionably dressed figures in the accompanying plate, seems the remotest of possibilities at this point in the narrative.


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Last modified 12 December 2001